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by Louise Wilson
20 June 2021
Sketch: Sowing the seeds of division one trade deal at a time

Sketch: Sowing the seeds of division one trade deal at a time

A trade deal with Australia that removes tariffs for the agricultural sector could have a “devastating” impact on Scotland’s rural economies, former farmer Jim Fairlie warned the Scottish Parliament.

The new SNP MSP used his first ever members’ debate to highlight all the organisations he’d been hobnobbing with recently.

“Their excitement at the opportunities of this and future deals to be negotiated are palpable – said absolutely no one who understands or cares about this sector,” he said, a mischievous glint in his eye. Alasdair Allan was behind him, smirking at such excellent wit.

Fairlie then took us on a short history lesson. Personally, I’m delighted that less than two minutes into the first members’ debate of session six, the legacy of Stewart Stevenson lives on.

“In the very late 1800s and early 1900s,” Fairlie began, “farming in this country was almost decimated as America opened up and transport become quicker, easier and cheaper.”

Where is he going with this?

He continued: “The farming sector did not recover until during and after the Second World War, when the government realised that German U-boat attacks on merchant ships would starve Britain into submission.”

Learning is fun.

“The industry’s very survival is being jeopardised by the proposed trade deal with Australia in exactly the same way as happened with the American and Canadian liberalisation deals almost 100 years ago.”

Ah, there we go, a point. Sort of.

The Conservatives naturally refuted this comparison, insisting no trade deal will undercut Scottish farmers and accusing the SNP of scaremongering.

But Fairlie attempted to pre-empt this line of argument: “It is clear that the Tories are now going to try to make this out to be an SNP, grievance mongering, anti-Westminster rhetoric debate,” he said, before deftly deploying his defence.

“In reality, it’s not just the SNP, and I’d like to thank those Labour and Green Party members who have signed my motion.”

Indeed, Labour and the Greens like grievance mongering, anti-Westminster rhetoric just as much as the SNP.

Time for the Tories’ chief whip, Stephen Kerr – a man with truly terrifying demon headmaster vibes – to jump in.

“The problem that the SNP have is that you’re fundamentally a party that is opposed to free trade. Tell me one example of the SNP voting for a free trade deal with anybody in any parliament. Give me one example,” he said, madly gesturing all the while at Fairlie. 

“The EU,” Fairlie retorted. It took a second for MSPs to react. There was a brief moment of quiet while the class looked to Headmaster Kerr, gauging how to respond. Some nervous laughter… and then a brief smattering of applause.

Kerr began waving his arms around again, “No! They voted against joining…”, but Fairlie cut him off. “Mr Kerr has had his moment,” he said politely.

The debate only took a turn for the worse here.

Michelle Thomson wisely told the chamber that, “as with lunch, free trade is never free.” She said that Scotland’s farmers must not be “unwittingly sacrificed on the altar of Tory government incompetence.”

Thomson stands against sacrificial Scotch lambs, for the record.

Gillian Martin offered some unexpected praise. “I must commend Finlay Carson, who has been given his instructions to defend the trade deal with Australia. I know that he is finding it really difficult to do so, but my goodness, he is putting in a right good shift today. Well done.” An expert at the backhanded compliment. 

And Emma Harper started a science lesson. She began teaching MSPs about ractopamine, cloxacillin and butylated hydroxyanisole.

Finlay Carson tentatively raised his hand to ask what this had to do with a trade deal.

“Wow, I cannae believe that you actually even ask me about that,” replied Harper. Like, oh em gee, Carson. You can’t just ask that. So rude. 

Carson, astutely recognising a non-answer when he sees one, tried again.

Harper replied: “I know about anti-microbial resistance; I know the damage to people’s kidney’s because we are on the last line of antibiotics for people. So we really need to, maybe we should be asking ourselves, why would these products be banned in the EU from 1981 if they were going to be issues that we should not be concerned about.”

The camera cuts to Carson, who looked as baffled by that answer as I felt.

Thankfully, Fairlie came to the rescue, attempting to clear up a few points. He said it was about setting a precedent for future trade deals when it comes to labelling and such like.

Harper jumped on this, asking about “acceptable levels of mites, dust, insect parts and mammalian excreta” in American food.

Yep, you read that right. Talk about lowering the tone of the debate. What a load of crap.

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